“Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play the game,” Pippen said. “I may go so far as saying LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game.”
Is Scottie speaking out of spite or does he actually believe Lebron has a shot at taking away the “greatest player of all time” claim away from Jordan? It probably wasn’t easy for Pippen, a fantastic player in his own right, to be overshadowed by Jordan throughout every single Bulls’ championship team. On his own, Pippen would have been most team’s best player.
But are Pippen’s comments as insane as people make them out to be? I’m not so sure. He made the mistake of saying Lebron is already the greatest to play the game, when in reality he meant that Lebron “may end up as” the greatest. When you look at it from that standpoint, things don’t seem as crazy, do they?
As the most unbiased person I know, I get into a lot of arguments with my fellow friends and sports fans. For example, I predicted that the Heat would beat the hometown Bulls in six games. I’m as big of a Bulls fan as anyone, yet I just didn’t think we had enough to get over the hump this year. I look at things from a realist’s standpoint and from that standpoint, the Bulls weren’t looking too good coming into this series and the Heat finally learned how to play together and were playing hotter than ever. Anyways, back to the original topic: Lebron vs. Jordan.
As much as I hate Lebron, there’s no doubting his abilities. He’s clearly the best player in the league at this point, and will be for years to come. I’ve always said that Lebron should win MVP every year and (sorry Bulls fans/friends) this year was no different. Yes, Derrick Rose did lead the Bulls to a league high 62 wins, but Lebron was still the league’s best player (look at the stats). Jordan faced similar scenarios, which is why he has only five NBA MVP Awards to his name and not 10+ for all the years he was the best player in the league.
Anyways, let’s compare the statistics of Lebron’s first seven seasons and Jordan’s first six seasons:
Jordan from 1984-85 to 1989-90:
FG% (Attempts Per Game): 51.6% (23.4)
FT% (Attempts Per Game): 84.8% (9.8)
TP% (Attempts Per Game): 28.2% (1.2)
James from 2003-04 to 2009-10:
FG% (Attempts Per Game): 47.5% (20.8)
FT% (Attempts Per Game): 74.2% (9.0)
TP% (Attempts Per Game): 32.9% (4.3)
When comparing each person’s play on the court, Lebron comes out as the better passer/facilitator as well as the better rebounder. Jordan wins out in terms of scoring ability and sheer dominance. Defensively, I would say that it’s a wash. Many claim that Jordan was much more tenacious and an overall better defender, but there are some irregularities. During Jordan’s era, defenders had much more leeway to do what they wanted. For example, the hand-check was legal at the time, making it a lot harder for players to move with the ball on the perimeter. This makes Jordan’s scoring ability incredible, but makes Lebron’s defensive abilities look great as well. In terms of three point shooting, I also think it’s a wash. Neither player was great nor terrible at shooting, just average. It’s also important to note that Jordan’s best years (as well as the Bulls’ best season) were the years the NBA shortened the three point line. Jordan was shooting in the mid 20s percentage-wise from behind the line. Once the NBA shortened the line, Jordan set career highs in percentage (42%), threes attempted (297) and threes made (111). It’s also interesting to note that with the shortened line the Bulls won 72 and 69 games. The year after the rule reverted the line back to its original place, the Bulls won only 62 games.
Let’s look at their playoff production during the same years:
FG% (Attempts Per Game): 50.5% (25.2)
FT% (Attempts Per Game): 83.3% (11.8)
TP% (Attempts Per Game): 30.4% (1.9)
FG% (Attempts Per Game): 45.9% (21.2)
FT% (Attempts Per Game): 74.3% (11.3)
TP% (Attempts Per Game): 31.6% (4.8)
There’s no doubt that Jordan’s playoff play puts him over the edge. His will to win and give what it takes to win is bar none to anyone. This is what will likely separate Lebron from the GOAT title when it’s all said and done. Lebron has already proved during his last years with the Cavs that he doesn’t have the drive and killer instinct Jordan had when it mattered.
Let’s move onto wins during the earlier stages of their careers:
Jordan from 1984-85 to 1989-90:
Bulls’ Regular Season: 260-232 (52.8%)
Bulls’ Playoffs: 24-29 (45.3%)
1984-85 Playoffs: First Round Loss (finished 7th in East)
1985-86 Playoffs: First Round Loss (finished 8th in East)
1986-87 Playoffs: First Round Loss (finished 8th in East)
1987-88 Playoffs: Second Round Loss
1988-89 Playoffs: Conference Finals Loss
1989-90 Playoffs: Conference Finals Loss
James from 2003-04 to 2009-10:
Cavs’ Regular Season: 349-225 (60.8%)
Cavs’ Playoffs: 42-29 (59.2%)
2003-04 Playoffs: Did not appear (finished 9th in East)
2004-05 Playoffs: Did not appear (finished 9th in East)
2005-06 Playoffs: Second Round Loss
2006-07 Playoffs: NBA Finals Loss
2007-08 Playoffs: Second Round Loss
2008-09 Playoffs: Conference Finals Loss
2009-10 Playoffs: Second Round Loss
Note that the two years the Cavs didn’t make the playoffs, they finished 9th in the East. In Jordan’s first three years, the Bulls made first round exits and finished 7th, 8th, and 8th in the East during the regular season.
The final argument category is accolades. Again, this is the early years of both players:
Jordan from 1984-85 to 1989-1990 (6 seasons):
*Rookie of the Year: 1985
*MVP: 1 time (1988)
*All-Star: 6 times (1985 to 1990)
*All-NBA First Team: 4 times (1987 to 1990)
*All-Defensive First Team: 3 times (1988 to 1990 / 1988 Defensive POY)
James from 2003-04 to 2009-2010 (7 seasons):
*Rookie of the Year: 2004
*MVP: 2 times (2009 and 2010)
*All-Star: 6 times (2005 to 2010)
*All-NBA First Team: 4 times (2006, 2008 to 2010)
*All-Defensive First Team: 2 times (2009 and 2010)
What’s most impressive here is the fact that Lebron entered the league at a mere 18 years of age, while Jordan had a three year head start at 21, coming from UNC.
Is there anything here that makes Pippen’s comments outlandish? I think not. It’s not exactly fair to compare one player whose legacy is already cemented and one whose legacy is far from over, but it is what it is and it’s quite interesting to analyze.
The Jerk Factor
Jordan and Lebron weren’t comparable only on the court, but off the court as well. Both were extreme douchebags in their own right. We all know Lebron’s antics have gained him a hatred from virtually every person who isn’t a Miami Heat fan, but Jordan had his issues as well. Jordan seemed to be one of the worst teammates in the history of the game when reading some of his quotes. Feast on these:
“You ever hear of a guy, six-eleven maybe and two hundred sixty pounds, a guy big and fat like that and he can’t get but two rebounds, if that many, running all over the damn court and he gets two rebounds? Big guy like that and he gets one rebound. Can’t even stick his ass into people and get more than that…Big, fat, fat guy. One rebound in three games. Power forward. Maybe they should call it powerless forward.” – Jordan on Bulls’ forward Stacey King
“Will Vanderbilt. He doesn’t deserve to be named after a Big Ten school.” – Jordan on Will Perdue
If you’d like to read more of these gems, click here.
Jordan also had infidelity issues on top of gambling issues. But since the internet and media weren’t nearly as influential as they are today I suppose nothing was made of it. Oh, and this as well:
Click here to watch part 2.
Click here to watch part 3.
I didn’t write this article to bash Jordan or even agree with what Pippen said, I wrote it simply to open the eyes of many casual and hardcore sports fans. While Lebron may never be recognized as the greatest player of all time, I thought it was cool how similar him and Jordan stack up through their first six/seven seasons in the NBA. Even if Lebron wins 5+ championships, I doubt he’ll ever be considered the greatest due to the fact that he joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. It also doesn’t help that public opinion of him is extremely unfavorable. As I said before, Lebron is only entering the prime of his career. It’ll be interesting to see how much success he will attain in the upcoming years, which can possibly put him in the same realm as Jordan.